Pope Francis urges churches to give services without fees

Pope Francis’s homily yesterday urged his listeners to cleanse the temple of their hearts, Vatican Radio reported.

He also had some challenging words for church institutions, specifically criticizing the practice of charging fees for services:

“How many times we sadly enter a temple – a parish, a bishop’s house and so on, not knowing whether were are in the house of God or in a supermarket.”  “There we have business, including the price list for the sacraments – nothing is free!”  But the Pope argued that God saved us freely, without making us pay.

In this regard, he asked whether money is needed to maintain building, priests and so on…  And the Pope answered, “You give freely and God will do the rest.”  “God will provide what is lacking,” the Pope said wishing our churches be “churches of service, free churches.”

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23 comments

  1. This is interesting from the Holy Father. Given that churches are closing throughout the United States, at least, due to their inability to make ends meet, I do not know how welcome these words will be.

    I do not think anyone “enjoys” asking a stated honorarium (stole fee) for any service, but the sad reality is that they are seen as necessary to assist in parish expenses which are not covered by the “net” offering (“Net” of diocesan taxes which are on the upswing as well).

  2. Our parish priest will waive the charge for people of modest means. He is surprised that the reception afterwards is often lavish.

  3. There should NEVER be a fee for any Sacrament. Period. Correct me if I am wrong, it is against Canon Law as well. Grace (via a sacrament) is freely given by God Himself.
    If someone wishes to make a donation, that is fine. Pope Francis should not even need to raise this issue.
    Let the parish finance people worry about the nickles and dimes. Let our clergy focus on the Gospel.

  4. A twenty-five thousand dollar New York wedding can manage a $500 church gift. I never tell people what to give but I recommend an amount. Frankly, as he often does Francis is projecting some of the money hungry Latin American travelling priests who milk the poor, and who he is familiar with and rightly condemns, onto the rest of the world.

  5. Why should we require members who do their best to live as Christians and support their parish to pay any fees just for celebrating the sacraments in their own church? It may be another issue for parishes who think it’s appropriate to rent the church out to marginal Catholics looking for their favorite architecture as a backdrop for a baptism or wedding. I’m not talking about parishioners of modest means who contribute little to the church. We have a downtown church that more “traditional” Catholics think of as very desirable for a lovely wedding. It’s pastor will be happy to accommodate them if they don’t balk at the $1200 fee. I find that scandalous. As for gifts offered the priest for celebrating sacraments for which we are already compensated, that’s another story. If they represent a genuine desire to express gratitude and affection for their parish priest I am always free to graciously accept or decline. But to have a parish policy which assigns specific fees for services is very hard to defend. Priests no longer rely on stole fees or Mass stipends to support themselves. To seek such fees to step up to a “better” life style has no justifiable place for servant leaders. Have I always believed and practiced these principles? No, but I have been repenting thanks, in part, to comments like those made by Pope Francis.

  6. Those who chase mammon need to be chastised. It is often said appointments to institutions are made on the basis of one’s ability to attract funds big or small. Long live Pope Francis.

  7. I heard of a parish in Manhattan that requests a donation of 10% of the cost of the rest of the wedding. I suspect that they rake in a lot more than the $1200 per wedding that we charge at our parish.

    (Just to make clear, however, what we charge most definitely does not go to the officiant but into the running of the parish.)

    1. We did this in Seattle for the first year of our parish’s existence (7 years ago), but stopped because people actually paid the outrageous amounts!

  8. Lavish weddings are moral problems unto themselves – and in the United States, even more urgently in need of the Holy Father’s admonishment than the relatively small fees charged by churches for use of the space. My experience is the same as Fritz’s – those fees go to the general parish funds. And they’re frequently waived.

    I believe that it’s also a pretty common practice that some of that wedding-fee money goes to the church musicians, for whom weddings are an important source of income, frequently to supplement the not-quite-living base wage that many Catholic parishes pay them for their professional services. This topic of living wages for church employees is, again, a more urgent topic for church leaders to address than fees to use the space for weddings.

    Just my opinions.

  9. It is not just NY where 10% of wedding expenses are requested by the parish… Money is the first thing people many people see when they walk into a parish office, with essentially a price list for sacraments and sacramentals posted next to the receptionist window that’s as welcoming as showing up to the X-Ray tech at the hospital.

    Hospitality is lacking in so many of our parishes. And we have a long way to go to accompany people without first judging them. We tell people sacraments are a big deal and very important. But then we are surprised that there is a lavish reception as somehow only those of means should celebrate? We tell people the church is here for you at all times but then put a crazy number of rules around Quinceañera celebrations because “those people shouldn’t be spending money like that.”

    And anyone – ANYONE – who shows up at our doors seeking God, even if for the slimmest of reasons such as a desire for beauty, should be welcomed warmly. You shouldn’t get a better celebration or more attention or a smaller fee because we know you. If you are a member of the Body of Christ, or if you are seeking to be a member of the Body of Christ, then you are one of us and you are welcome. Yeah – we may have to work some things out and we may not be able to do exactly what you want us to right now. But if you come seeking holiness of any sort at these significant moments in your life, then let’s get to know each other better and see where God is in the midst of it all.

    Good for the Holy Father for saying it. I would pray our Dioceses and Parishes would have the courage to give real prayer and consideration to the call.

  10. I would simply point out that contributing to the support of the church is still one of the precepts of the church, if I’m not mistaken.

    1. Yes, through free and cheerfully offered gifts, not by charging fees for the use of the church. It is another matter to assign fees for use of the social center for receptions and parties. We offer ours to supporting parishioners at a fraction of what it costs to get a hotel ballroom or event center. I waive the fees for those who truly can’t even afford that ($400 for Hall & Kitchen)

    2. In my neck of the woods, people are required to be “active contributing members” of the parish for at least six months before asking to be married. I would assume that that would cover the precept of supporting one’s church.

      I’m shocked at the $1200 fee several have mentioned – is that for people who are not members of the parish who just want a pretty church wedding? We truly didn’t have a lot of money when we got married and that’s more than we spent on our entire wedding (including clothes, flowers, and reception!). The parish I belonged to didn’t officially charge anything when my wife and I got married, but the archdiocese got its fee for the required “marriage preparation” and natural family planning classes. We were married according to the 1962 rite, so charging huge fees certainly isn’t a traditionalist thing.

  11. View from the pew
    Regarding: ““There we have business, including the price list for the sacraments – nothing is free!” But the Pope argued that God saved us freely, without making us pay.”
    – While each parish is different, generally it would seem that the expectation is for parishioners, by their contributions of time, treasure, and talents establish and maintain the parish as a going concern. This enable the clerics, and other ministers in providing the sacraments to all who requests them (naturally catechesis might need to be provided first) without regard for further remuneration.
    – Of course, if a family wants to use the parish hall for a party, then it should be pointed out that they cost of lights, janitorial service, insurance is [this amount].
    – If someone, who lives in the parish, but is not a regular supporter (time, talent, treasure) of the parish, eventually wants to ask for the sacraments (marriage, funeral mass, baptism, etc.), they should not be dunned with fees. Rather they could be asked for a donation equal to 2% of their weekly salary (making up an example). Even if they refuse to donate anything, they may not be refused any sacraments that they have requested.

  12. I have found this interesting to follow and not a single person has mentioned the massive white elephant in the room…….the requests received from non worshiping, unregistered individuals who have had some relationship with your parishes. Perhaps baptized, confirmed, grandmother was there for 50 years, etc.
    Having given absolutely nothing from the time, talent and certainly not from their treasure (this sole gift to the church being their sole charitable event of the year), should there not be a reasonable offering expected?
    Several years ago, the Diocese of Providence announced and circulated to the parishes a guideline on fees for Marriages. The maximum for a parishioner was expected to be no more than $300, from a non-parishioner, $500. Some adher to this policy, while St. Mary’s in Newport still charges $5,000, somehoe skirting the regulations claiming to be a historical church.

    The big issue is the un churched and in spite of your every kindness towards them and their promises to be faithful, never darken the nave again…….is “free” fair? Especially to those who do give of their time, talent and increasingly from their treasure to keep the parish simply afloat?

  13. I find it strange that parishes are charging big bucks for weddings, but most bishops are telling their flocks that annulments are now free.

  14. I wonder what this means for Germany, where the bishops maintain that anyone who refuses to register for paying Church Tax is not really a Catholic and must be refused the sacraments (I do not deny the duty of the Catholics to support the church, but this can be also done in other ways).

  15. I am not RC, but Anglican/Episcopalian. We don’t have ‘stole fees’, although it is expected that those who can should make a contribution. If they want to use the parish hall for the reception, yes, there is a fee for that; and if they want the organist to play, likewise. But not for the priest’s services.

    Isn’t charging money for sacraments the definition of ‘simony’?

    1. Cathy Caridi has a useful discussion of this issue here.
      http://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2013/11/07/stipends-and-sacraments/
      Its particularly important to remember that customs vary widely and that the “Stole Fee” (which I agree is a most unfortunate term) doesn’t always go to the priest personally. Its also worth remembering that in some parts of the world, the priest does depend on stole fees and mass stipends for his income.

  16. As I understand it, Jewish congregations charge their members annual dues, and those who attend services only at the High Holy Days must pay dues for the whole year in order to get seats at that time—the idea being that, unless the institution is supported for the full year, it won’t be there for them during the special days. Of course nothing like that is appropriate for churches, but the idea that those who use the church only for baptisms (though they probably prefer the term christenings), weddings, and funerals depend on an institution being there all round the year. Whether they should be appearing only for those celebrations is a separate issue, but asking them for larger support of the church that they only occasionally but crucially depend on could be a teaching moment rather than one focused solely on money.

  17. Since my parish is one of those $1200 parishes, I kind of feel the need to defend us agains the charge of simony. As I said earlier, for people who contribute to the parish in a way that we can track, we deduct their contributions from the cost. So a couple who comes every Sunday and gives $25 would pay nothing to get married. But most of them are not attached to our parish and choose us because 1) the church is gorgeous and 2) we are downtown and thus near to hotels and reception venues. I suppose I think of the $1200 as our asking them to contribute what an active parishioner might give over the course of a year.

    I have never had a couple question the charge, and having been to some of the receptions I don’t get the sense that we are anywhere near their highest expense. But I will admit that I worry about couples who see the fee on the parish website and never even inquire. I cannot imagine that I would ever refuse to do a wedding for a couple who really could not afford the fee, but there may be couples who never ask.

    Apart from the money question, there is the issue of marrying couples who seem only loosely attached to the Church, not to mention our parish. I obviously would prefer if they were active parishioners, and I am not naive about the evangelistic pay-off (we gain a few parishioners via weddings, but its only a tiny percentage of the weddings we do), but I’m also something of a legalist, and canon law says that Catholics have a right to the sacraments, and I don’t see it as my place to be more rigorous than the Church herself is. We do our due diligence to make sure they understand what the Church means by marriage and that this is what they intend to enter into, but beyond that I have to leave it to their consciences.

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